Nine Digestive Disease Myths

Medical Reviewers and Editors: Jay W. Marks, MD, and Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

Researchers have only recently begun to understand the many, often complex, diseases that affect the digestive system. Accordingly, people are gradually replacing folklore, old wives' tales, and rumors about the causes and treatments of digestive diseases with accurate, up-to-date information. But misunderstandings still exist, and, while some folklore is harmless, some can be dangerous if it keeps a person from correctly preventing or treating an illness. Listed below are some common misconceptions (fallacies), about digestive diseases, followed by the facts as professionals understand them today.

Myth # 1 Ulcers: Spicy food and stress cause stomach ulcers.


The truth is, the majority of stomach ulcers are caused either by infection with a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) or by use of pain medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen, the so-called nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Most H. pylori-related ulcers can be cured with antibiotics. NSAID-induced ulcers can be cured with time, stomach-protective medications, antacids, and avoidance of NSAIDs. Now that it is appreciated that H. pylori and NSAIDs are the cause of most ulcers and patients are being managed appropriately, the ulcers that are coming to medical attention are increasingly likely to be unrelated to H. pylori or NSAIDs. Spicy food and stress (except when associated with extreme medical conditions) may aggravate ulcer symptoms in some people, but they do not cause ulcers.

Ulcers can also be caused by cancer.

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